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In a world where google education and Instagram fitness makes it easy to get caught up in all the noise on what the ‘best diet’ is to follow, I decided not to allow myself to fall into the trap of being overwhelmed by all the differing opinions out there when I was devising my nutrition plan. In the past, I had a hard time differentiating between which information to take in & which to pass aside. Do carbs make you fat? Are carbs ‘bad’ after 6pm? Is paleo the best diet? I ashamedly admit these were questions my 22 year old self struggled with answering.
‘As to methods there are many, but principles there are few. The man who knows the principles can choose his methods.’
Instead of being overwhelmed by all the different methods (paleo, keto, high/low carb etc.), I focused on zoning in on the principles – the fundamentals when devising my nutrition plan for Andy Frisella’s 75 Hard program.
An overview for anyone who didn’t get to read my recent blog post about it is: for 75 days in a row you must complete the following tasks before you go to bed at night:
If you miss one single task, you have to start over again at the very beginning.
What are the fundamentals of a good nutritional plan? In order of importance:
A breakdown of the fundamentals
Starting off with adherence, being able to stick to a nutritional plan which didn’t allow ‘cheat meals’ (which is a term I hate) or drink any alcohol was really challenging. I firstly had to differentiate between foods which I deemed were acceptable and not acceptable to eat. I don’t believe foods should be categorised as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ I prefer to differentiate them as high calorie and low calorie but this was ultimately something I had to do. What did this look like in operation?
This meant resisting the temptation of eating eggs on Easter Sunday, or not having any bread, milk chocolate or sweets or being able to celebrate your siblings birthday. Sounds pretty tough right? It was. And it sucked. More on why these kind of diets are not sustainable long term. I was willing to suck this up in the short term because there was an end date. But I know that restrictive diets eventually lead to binge eating which I’ll address later on in this article.
Going onto calorie intake, I knew this would be huge for me to nail if I was to be able to do 2x 45 minute workouts a day. Today's session is only as a good as yesterday’s recovery. In the past, I never really zoned in on getting leaner. When I was playing football, I usually would’ve kept my calories around maintenance levels and all the cardio and running from training alone allowed me to maintain a sub 10% bodyfat percentage. Being ruled out of playing this year with a fractured ankle, I knew my diet would need to be more on point than ever with my reduced cardio levels, so that’s when I decided to go into a deficit and really focus on losing bodyfat.
My first step was to decide on my maintenance calories and then drop into a deficit from there. How do you workout your maintenance calories? In a recent blogpost I talk about the entire process involved. I knew I had plenty of time (75 days – which turned out to be over 90 days!) to get leaner so I went for a slow & gradual approach. I like starting a new program every 4 weeks so I decided starting out each new phase, I would gradually drop my calorie intake. Here’s what it looked like:
Maintenance Calories: 3,400
Phase 1: 3,000 Kcals
Phase 2: 2,800 Kcals
Phase 3: 2,600 Kcals
Prep Week: 1,900 – 2,300 Kcals
I had no specific macro or micro nutrient intake but I did really zone in on getting about 200g+ of protein per day and then balancing out my carbohydrate and fat intake. Why so high with protein? My goal was to maintain as much muscle as possible while dropping bodyfat and toning up. Having a higher protein intake than normal allowed me to preserve my muscle mass & also recover faster between sessions.
the daily diet & supplements
A typical day for me where I was eating 2,800 calories (the middle ground) looked something like this:
The template above is somewhat similar to what I follow today without the restrictions of not having some ‘cheat meals’ whenever I feel like it.
Meal 1: As you can see, my biggest carbohydrate meal was always post (gym) workout when you’re insulin sensitive. In laymens terms, this means the carbohydrates you eat post workout are more likely to be put towards building muscle than stored as fat. On top of this, it helps you replenish your muscle glycogen and ultimately restore your energy levels for the cardio session I would do later that day, but more importantly for the following day’s gym session.
Meal 2 & 3: Both of these were higher protein and lower carb. When I say I ate a tonne of vegetables in these meals, I’m not lying! Veggies are something I hated to eat when I was younger (and even in my late teenage years) but now, I genuinely can’t get enough of them! They help keep the body alkaline and provide your body with a tonne of micro nutrients.
Snacks: The snacks I ate made up the remainder of my calorie target. As the weeks went on, my snacks reduced to help with me staying within my calorie intake.
Performance & Recovery Supplements: Post workout, I also had 2 scoops of BCAA’s, L-Glutamine and Creatine (as well as whey protein with my oats) as a recovery drink. This drink has no more than 20 calories yet I can genuinely say helped me a lot with my recovery.
General Health Supplements: These are supplements I took to help with some of my deficiencies from blood testing. For instance, magnesium is something we lose as we sweat so most athletes likely have low levels. Unfortunately, we’re not blessed with a lot of sun here in Ireland so vitamin D year round is something I always supplement with.
You might be asking how this equated to 310g of carbohydrates? On top of the oats and the tonne of veg I ate, it’s important to remember that fruit is also a form of carbohydrate. So the berries, banana, apple etc. all add up.
Fasting and time restricted eating (TRE) is something I’ve been trying out the last two years and it works really well for me. Without going into too much detail, TRE is a more flexible approach to intermittent fasting. From the moment you break your fast, the goal is to get all your meals eaten inside optimally 9 hours & maximally 12 hours. My first meal of the day, post workout was usually 1.30pm and my final snacks would’ve been around 10.30pm at night. This would’ve kept me around the optimal range.
There’s nothing magical about TRE but it worked for me. Firstly, it helped me stay within my calorie target which was probably the biggest benefit for me. Secondly, I like getting work done in the morning when I’m most productive. This allowed me to make the most of this time as I was just sipping on water. I was also someone who previously would’ve had an eating window of up to 16 hours. I used to be able to almost taste last night's meal in my mouth in the morning when I ate my breakfast! I feel much better doing TRE and it gives my body a chance to properly digest its food.
In relation to training, I wouldn’t recommend TRE for field-based athletes or if you want to increase your muscle mass and weight. But it did help me with my goal of being leaner and I found I was pretty efficient with my energy levels. What do I mean by this? Carbs are your bodies primary and preferred fuel source. Fat is your bodies secondary fuel source. You need carbs for higher & more intense forms of exercise such as sprinting, heavy lifting and HIIT training. Fats are used for lower & less intensive activities. I found that training fasted allowed me to be more efficient with my energy by conserving my carbohydrates for the high intensity lifts only and using fats for the lower, moderate intensity efforts. In other words, when I needed my carbs to kick in for max effort lifting, jumps and conditioning work, I felt I could tap into them better.
When someone says you can’t have something, what do you automatically want? The thing you can’t have. For me, following this rigid plan was tough. All of the foods I ate in the above template, I still eat today. And 90% of the time, my nutrition is clean. But, like everyone else, I do enjoy chocolate and ice-cream, I enjoy an odd bowl of cereal or slice of bread or a nice warm latte’s and all of the other good stuff you can think. So when I went through 75 Hard, having to restrict these foods was something I was willing to sacrifice in the short term, but I knew in the long term wasn’t sustainable. And sustainability is something which is critical for making long term change. When your diet doesn’t feel like a diet, you know you’re on the right track. And for me, this felt like a diet because it was so restrictive.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, on both occasions when I f*cked up, I ashamedly say it resulted in me going on an all out binge. This meant raiding the cupboards of all the biscuits, breads, tarts and cakes and everything else I had to restrict myself of. It involved eating bowls upon bowls of coco pops, eating ice-cream after ice-cream along with any bit of chocolate I could get my hands on! I felt awful afterwards on both occasions. Not just physically from eating 8000 + calories, but mentally. Anyone whose binged eaten before knows its not good for your body or mind.
a better approach
Instead of being so restrictive all the time, a better approach is to include the foods you enjoy for your lifestyle so it doesn’t feel like a diet. Instead of going cold turkey and saying ‘I’m never going to eat chocolate again,’ allow yourself to eat smaller servings of it regularly which will help prevent the inevitable all out binge which will follow if you restrict yourself too long. The best diet is the one you can adhere to which includes the foods you enjoy and helps you get the results you desire.
As I previously mentioned, I knew this 75 Hard program was only temporary. 75 days, just short of 11 weeks and its done. Not a permanent lifestyle change. So don’t be mistaken into thinking having no cheat meals or drinking any alcohol was something I intended to do for the rest of my life. It wasn’t. Why? Because this is approach is not sustainable. I just like challenging myself and seeing how I fare out in difficult situations. If this involves making short term sacrifices, so be it.
Its like being told you’re on a drinking ban 4 weeks out from championship! You’ll do it if you have to because you know its for a worthy cause! However, if you were told you’re on a drinking ban for 9 months, or until the season is over, your compliance might be different. There’s nothing wrong with making a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain every now and then. But in general, when you’re mapping out your goals, ask yourself: is this something I’ll be able to stick to for the rest of my life? If the answer is yes, great! If no, then what needs to change in order for it to be a yes?
If you’re currently following a diet which involves you eating rabbit food & turning your tongue at the thought of eating your next meal, this approach is not going to be sustainable for you. Food is meant to be enjoyed. You’re going to be eating it for the rest of your life so it’s a good idea to build a good relationship with it. If you’re being so restrictive on yourself that you can’t have a piece of chocolate every now and then or grab an ice-cream on a warm, sunny day, eventually your will power will give in and you’ll crash. And as my example shows, this is when the heavens open up.
A better approach is to allow yourself to have small servings of these foods regularly so you’ll never need to go on a binge every couple of weeks. Including the foods you enjoy through flexible dieting is a winning formula for me and for my clients. Its actually the underlying principle my Lean for Life, Proper 12 week challenge was written for.
Anyone who wants to stay in shape while socialising at the weekend. Or alternatively, anyone who wants to get leaner without sacrificing carbs and cocktails. Does this sound like something you might be interested in?
If yes, then claim your free consultation call now and I’d be happy to talk to you about your goals in more detail.
Adrian McDonnell -
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